“You’re blushing,” he said, regarding her with amusement.
“Well, of course I am! I hardly know you, and here we are discussing underwear.”
“It can be a fascinating topic, especially if we move from cotton to satin and lace.”
She frowned at him. “You’re deliberately trying to rattle me, aren’t you?”
“Why would I do that?” he asked, trying for a serious expression. The twinkle in his gray eyes betrayed him.
“I can’t imagine, especially when all I was trying to find out was what drew a city man like you to spend time in a country retreat.” She studied him thoughtfully, then said, “There must have been a woman involved.”
“Bingo. The woman who brought me here years ago was envisioning a quiet, romantic getaway with long hikes through the woods.” He shrugged and gave her a beguilingly sheepish look. “Instead I spent the weekend holed up in Mae’s study with my computer and fax machine taking care of a business crisis.”
Savannah immediately felt a surprising empathy for the woman. “Now, that I can imagine. Your friend must have been disappointed.”
“What sort of business?”
“I own a company in New York,” he said in such a dismissive way that it sparked her curiosity.
“Franklin,” Savannah recalled thoughtfully. “Not Franklin Toys, by any chance?”
He seemed startled that she’d grasped it so quickly. “That’s the one. How on earth did you figure that out?”
“There were some articles about that company on Mae’s desk. Obviously she kept up with it.”
“I imagine so,” he said, his expression noncommittal.
“Because she knew you from your visits here?” Savannah persisted, sensing there was more.
He shrugged. “That was the start of her interest, I suppose.”
She frowned at his evasiveness. “What aren’t you saying?”
“What makes you think I’m leaving something out?”
“Okay, then, here’s the whole story in a nutshell. I suppose I owe you that, since I’ve shown up on your doorstep out of the blue,” he said. “Your aunt was the one who encouraged me to start the company. I’d been with another toy manufacturer for a few years. I’d learned all I could, and I had a lot of ideas for ways to do it better. Mae was an early investor in Franklin Toys. Over the years she and I made a lot of money together, but I owe every bit of that success to her initial encouragement.”
“I see,” Savannah said slowly. “So that first trip here wasn’t a waste of your time after all. Did your relationship with the woman last?”
“Only for as long as it took me to get her back to her apartment in New York that Sunday night,” he said with no hint of regret. “My friendship with Mae lasted much longer.”
“Then you came back here often?” she asked, feeling a vague sense of regret and guilt that he’d spent these last years with her aunt, when she should have been the one spending time here.
“As frequently as I could,” he said. “Your aunt was a remarkable woman. I enjoyed my visits with her.”
“Even if she did live essentially in the middle of nowhere,” Savannah said, needing to remind herself that this man bore way too many resemblances to her ex-husband.
“Funny thing about that,” he said, picking up one of the few sugar cookies they’d managed to salvage and breaking off a bite. “I got used to the peace and quiet. And the phone lines, fax and Internet connections work just fine.”
“So even though you’re here for the holidays, I suppose you brought all of your equipment along,” she guessed.
Savannah shook her head. “I hope you watch your cholesterol. Anybody who’s as much of a workaholic as you appear to be is clearly a heart attack waiting to happen.”
“I’ll try not to have one while I’m here,” he promised solemnly.
“Thank you for that. I’m afraid I don’t have the kind of insurance it would take to cover your medical expenses if you collapse and fall down the stairs.”
He grinned. “I do.”
“Well, then, I suppose you can stay,” she said grudgingly, thinking of the extra work involved in having a guest in a house that was all but falling down around them.
He regarded her with a wry expression. “I had no intention of doing anything else.”
“You’ll have to pitch in and help,” she said, deliberately ignoring his remark. “I’m afraid the inn isn’t officially ready for guests again.”
“I’m not a guest—not the way you mean, anyway. And I came expecting to take care of myself. The attorney said the refrigerator would be stocked, and I brought along plenty of food from the city.”
“Caviar, I imagine,” she said, feeling strangely testy at the thought of sharing the house with a man whose tastes, like Rob’s, probably ran to the expensive and exotic. “Maybe some imported Stilton cheese? Smoked salmon? The finer things you absolutely couldn’t live without?”
His grin spread. “Junk food, if you must know.”
Once again, Savannah felt the full effects of that devastating smile. She hoped he wouldn’t do it too often. It might make her forget that he was completely unsuitable for a woman who’d already been burned by a man who put his work before his family.
“What exactly do you consider junk food?” she asked.
“Potato chips. Popcorn.” He leaned closer and lowered his voice to confide, “I also have a cooler filled with chocolate mocha almond ice cream. I’m addicted to the stuff.”
Her eyes widened. Chocolate mocha almond was an indulgence she rarely allowed herself. Aside from the calories, the brand she loved was outrageously expensive. She’d developed a taste for it during her marriage, but had had to forgo it since the divorce. The store brands simply didn’t live up to the gourmet ice cream. She had a hunch that cooler of Trace’s was stocked with the best.
“Exactly how much ice cream did you bring?” she asked, hoping it sounded like a purely casual inquiry.
“Enough for you and Hannah…..if you’re good,” he teased.
“When it comes to chocolate mocha almond, I can eat a lot,” she warned him.
He surveyed her slowly, appreciatively, then shook his head. “Not as much as I can,” he said. “And I brought enough for a week. I’ll make you a deal. If you let me share in whatever you’re fixing for Christmas dinner, I’ll provide dessert.”
“But that’s three days away,” Savannah protested.
He winked. “I know. Patience is a virtue.”
“Another of Mae’s favorite sayings,” Savannah recalled as again a wave of nostalgia hit. “Are you sure I can’t talk you into sharing sooner?”
He glanced at the piles of cookies on the table and the obvious remnants of hot chocolate in two mugs. “Are you absolutely certain you won’t go into some sort of sugar-overload crisis?”
“Then I’ll bring it in,” he said.
“I’ll help,” Savannah said eagerly, grabbing a jacket off a hook by the door and following him outside.
The instant she spotted his fancy new four-wheel-drive sports utility vehicle out front, she was momentarily distracted from thoughts of ice cream. It could turn out that Trace Franklin was the answer to her prayers.
“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to let me borrow your car?” she asked.
“First you want my ice cream, and now you’re after my car,” he said, shaking his head. “You ask a lot for someone I’ve barely met.”
“I need to get to town to pick up paint and things to start on the work that’s needed around here.” She glanced toward her own car, a faded six-year-old sedan with questionable tires. “I doubt my car will make it down the mountain, much less back up on these icy roads.”
His expression grew thoughtful. “Okay, here’s my best offer. I’ll trade you breakfast tomorrow for a trip into town.”
Apparently the man’s obsession with business never quit. “You really do like to negotiate, don’t you?”
He shrugged. “Force of habit. I like creating win-win situations. Is it a deal?”
Savannah held out her hand. “Deal.” She hesitated. “You could have dinner with Hannah and me this evening, if you like. It won’t be fancy. I’m fixing spaghetti.”
He seemed startled by the invitation. “It just so happens that I love spaghetti.” His gaze narrowed suspiciously. “What do you want in return for that?”
“Ice cream for dessert?” she asked hopefully.
Rather than answering, he reached into the car, then turned back with something in hand and tossed it to her. Savannah caught it instinctively. It was a pint of ice cream. And she’d been right—it was the best.
“It’s all yours,” he said. “Consider it a gesture of good faith.”
He retrieved a huge cooler, which obviously contained the rest. Savannah eyed it enviously. “Is that thing really filled with more of this?”
“Packed solid,” he told her. He studied her warily. “Am I going to have to put a lock on the freezer?”
“I would never steal your ice cream,” she said with a hint of indignation, then grinned. “That doesn’t mean I won’t try to talk you out of it.”
His gaze locked with hers and anticipation slid over her once again, making her senses come alive.
“This is really, really good ice cream,” he said quietly. “It could take more than talk.”
Savannah barely resisted the urge to fan herself. She was surprised steam wasn’t rising around her. Oh, this man was dangerous, all right. She was obviously going to have to watch her step the whole time he was underfoot. Any man who prided himself on being a shark when it came to business was likely to be equally determined when it came to anything else he wanted.
Well, she’d just have to make sure he didn’t decide he wanted her. One glance comparing her flour-streaked jeans to his tailored wool slacks put that notion to rest. They weren’t in the same league at all.
She lifted her gaze to his, caught the desire darkening those gray eyes. Uh-oh, she thought. Apparently clothes didn’t matter to Trace, because the look in his eyes was anything but neutral.
More worrisome, though, than that discovery was the realization that she wasn’t nearly as upset by it as she probably ought to be. In fact, a little zing of anticipation had her blood heating up quite nicely. She could probably strip off her sheepskin-lined jacket and be quite comfortable in the twenty-degree temperature out here.
“You’ll want to get all your stuff inside,” she said, her tone suddenly brisk. “Who knows how many deals you might have missed while we’ve been talking?”
“The ones worth making can always wait,” he said.